By Pritam Rohila, Ph.D. : For centuries South Asian woman has been abused. Before birth, she has faced the possibility of feticide. After birth, she often experienced neglect, malnourishment, and deprivation of educational opportunities. As she got older, she dealt with job discrimination, lewd remarks, possibility of sexual abuse and even rape. After marriage, she was punished by her in-laws for bringing less than expected dowry, for giving birth to a daughter, for death of her husband, or for some other family misfortune.
But things are changing now. She has demonstrated she can not only do anything a man can, but sometimes even surpass him. She is no longer content to seek man’s patronage, protection, or representation. She is now capable of asserting herself, and defending her rights. Besides she also works to improve the lot of others around her.
And a remarkable aspect of this phenomenon is that the new South Asian Woman does not have to be only from an aristocratic family, or a political dynasty. In fact she can be form the streets of any South Asian habitation.
She can be like Sheema Kermani of Karachi (Sindh, Pakistan), who started Tehrik-e-Niswan (Women’s Movement) and uses dance as a medium of political protest, as well as a vehicle for highlighting issues facing women and minorities.
Or she can be like Rajkala Devi, who is the first-ever elected female head of the village council of Hingwahera (Rajasthan, India). Besides attending to her administrative duties, and participating in the UN-sponsored leadership training workshops, she advocates for girls’ education, ensures proper meals for poor children, and helps old people and widows with their pension problems.
Or, she can be like Razia Sultan, a young girl of 15 from Nanglakhumba village (Uttar Pradesh, India). A child laborer since age four, she is now working for the welfare of other child laborers. She has already transformed the lives of 48 children trapped as child laborers. Also she has campaigned door-to-door in parts of India and Nepal to spread awareness about education among children and their parents.
Or, she can be like Malala Yousafzai a 15-years-old from Swat Valley (Pakistan), who, on October 9, 2012, was shot in her head by the Taliban, for speaking against their ban on girls attending schools. She has now become a global icon for girls’ education. Speaking at the UN General Assembly on July 12, her 16th birthday, which had been declared by the UN as ‘Malala Day, she declared, “They thought that the bullet would silence us, but they failed.” “Let’s pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in life, except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, courage and fervor was born,” she said to her audience.
Watch out! The South Asian woman is now awake, aware, and arising! Very likely, the 21st century is going to be Century of the South Asian Woman. She will end up ruling not only the homes, businesses, and governments of the South Asia, but also the hearts and minds of South Asian men!